Will the New Year bring better careers advice?

FirefighterAn astronaut, a fireman, a police officer and a teacher. Just some of the answers you’d typically hear in response to one of the most commonly asked questions, “what do you want to be when you grow up?”. But is what you actually became what you wanted to be and how much support did you actually get in terms of careers advice?

I remember constantly changing my mind throughout school on what I wanted to be when I grew up; from an actor and presenter to a forensic scientist and crime scene investigator. Yet throughout my school life I don’t feel like I was given enough advice early on in order to inform my decisions when choosing the right subjects for college or university.

Careers advice has long been debated about in schools and colleges as to whether we really are prepping students for the future. For me, despite having a part-time job throughout college, it wasn’t until university that I was exposed to the industry that I now have a career in – and that was because of the compulsory six week placement. Even for that I felt there was a serious lack of support and guidance when it came to connecting us with businesses that we might want to gain experience with.

Never did I originally think I would end up in PR and that’s because I hadn’t learnt about the industry until I studied media at university. As we grow up, teachers – and parents for that matter – tend to tell us about the careers that they are more familiar with, but this is actually damaging because without us knowing exactly what sectors and jobs there are out there, we risk not being able to find the job and associated industry that would benefit our skillset and personalities the most.

Awareness of different careers and job roles needs to start from an early age, and teachers need to be given the right tools and support in order to sufficiently advise students on the future opportunities available to them. This long-standing issue is what the Government aims to combat through its recent careers strategy.

The strategy is based on four key priorities including more work experience opportunities as well as making sure there is support for both teachers (in the form of training) and for students (by providing a high-quality careers programme).

The aim is for every school and college to have a dedicated careers leader who will be able to offer tailored support to students when it comes to making decisions about their future.

Of course careers advice is key but in order to give students a true understanding of what is required in a real-working environment, they need to be immersed within it. Getting students to take part in work experience will allow them to not only gain first-hand insight but also show them exactly how their skills and experience fit with the assigned job role.

Generally speaking, we tend to gain work experience based on links and connections that we ourselves or our family and friends have, giving us a ‘foot in the door’. However, sometimes that means we’re just doing it to tick a box rather than actually gaining experience in a career we could end up with. Therefore, schools and businesses need to work a lot closer in order to provide children with a broader selection of opportunities, with a careers adviser on hand to help them identify which sector they might be most suited to.

Schools cannot be expected to know the ins and outs of every job, therefore building links with other institutions and local businesses will help to build a better awareness of the millions of different roles and opportunities out there, which students may never have previously considered.

For example, the Department for Education has enforced a rule that comes into play this month, which states that schools must “give education and training providers the opportunity to talk to pupils in years 8 to 13 about approved technical qualifications and apprenticeships”.

Whether or not schools agree with this approach, opening students’ eyes to the alternative opportunities out there – especially for those who might be more technical-minded – surely is a good thing.

It is about being able to give students the best chances to suit their personal needs and skillsets the most, and the new strategy builds on this by highlighting the requirement that every secondary school needs to provide students with at least one meaningful interaction with businesses every year. It also recommends a particular emphasis on STEM-related organisations in order to create much needed highly-skilled workers.

Carolyn Fairbairn, CBI Director-General said: “The top priority must be the urgent transformation of our skills base. The clock may be ticking on Brexit but it is ticking just as fast in our schools, colleges, universities and workplaces.

“The UK is facing a skills emergency. Weaknesses in supporting young people into the labour market have existed for years, but the changing nature of jobs and skill needs have turned the situation critical.

“The CBI will be campaigning for reformed careers advice in schools and to ensure every young person gets quality guidance and at least 4 interactions with working life by the age of 16, in every nation of the UK.”

Students can only aspire to careers that they know about, therefore, as teachers, parents and educators we need to be able to provide them with quality careers advice as early as possible in order to equip them with the right knowledge and skills that will benefit them and our future economy.